4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The Coast Starlight: journey over destination

Amtrak still tries to sell us on the idea of romance of the journey

The unfortunate truth is that modern Amtrak cars simply aren't that romantic.
The unfortunate truth is that modern Amtrak cars simply aren't that romantic.

Few modes of travel better exemplify the aphorism, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” than a train ride. America’s interstate rail system is neither faster nor cheaper than air travel, and if you take the reductionist view, both experiences amount to occupying a rigid seat inside a metal tube for hours on end. In lieu of efficiency, Amtrak emphasizes the romance of rumbling along at ground level, with America’s geography on display out that train window. But the unfortunate truth is that modern Amtrak cars simply aren’t that romantic. Seating is marginally less cramped than those provided by airlines, but if there’s a true benefit in 2019, it’s that Amtrak couldn’t overbook its passenger cars if it tried. It’s just not popular enough to furnish the special brand of discomfort experienced by oversold flights on commercial airliners. So there’s less of a crowd to contend with, on a train.

The Coast Starlight

Still, Amtrak tries to sell us on the idea of romance of the journey, held over from a past era when the romance was inherent, because rails did provide the fastest path across the country. Every long, transnational train ride came pre-loaded with anticipation, quite often because the destination was a literal new frontier for its passengers, who most likely were embarking on a new life or a western adventure.

Five years back, Amtrak launched a writers residency, offering free rides to select writers willing to wax romantically about their contemporary rail adventures. That program has more recently devolved to a social media residency. The question then becomes whether the problem was a general lack of interest in train stories, or a general lack of interest in reading about people enjoying the journey over the destination.

Nevertheless, one has to suppose the monopolistic passenger rail company is thrilled that the name of one of its west coast routes, the Coast Starlight, has been given to a new play. Performed at La Jolla Playhouse until September 15, The Coast Starlight depicts conversations between passengers on the route’s 36-hour journey, which tracks from Los Angeles up the coast to San Luis Obispo, then north through Oakland and Sacramento, before crossing Oregon to Portland, and concluding in Seattle, Washington.

Except what it actually depicts are imagined conversations between the passengers, who, the audience is told, actually spend the overnight ride thinking about speaking to one another without much doing so. They speak of being in touch with loved ones via phone, skype, or email, yet do little to engage one another’s’ visceral sadness, anxiety, or uncertainty.

In that sense, the romance of the train journey depicted offers a wistful look at the ways our journeys might be enriched. If not by living an era where the cumbersome rumbling of a long train ride offered the quickest transit between two points, then one where we might share 36 hours with other human beings in a small space and actually form relationships, rather than biding time until the journey has ended.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Paxton adobe house in Escondido threatened

Model home for Longview Acres subdivision
Next Article

How Otay changed, secret TJ gardens, Mission Valley's future

San Diego State's Paseo project, building a Rancho Santa Fe mansion, downtown high rises never stop
The unfortunate truth is that modern Amtrak cars simply aren't that romantic.
The unfortunate truth is that modern Amtrak cars simply aren't that romantic.

Few modes of travel better exemplify the aphorism, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” than a train ride. America’s interstate rail system is neither faster nor cheaper than air travel, and if you take the reductionist view, both experiences amount to occupying a rigid seat inside a metal tube for hours on end. In lieu of efficiency, Amtrak emphasizes the romance of rumbling along at ground level, with America’s geography on display out that train window. But the unfortunate truth is that modern Amtrak cars simply aren’t that romantic. Seating is marginally less cramped than those provided by airlines, but if there’s a true benefit in 2019, it’s that Amtrak couldn’t overbook its passenger cars if it tried. It’s just not popular enough to furnish the special brand of discomfort experienced by oversold flights on commercial airliners. So there’s less of a crowd to contend with, on a train.

The Coast Starlight

Still, Amtrak tries to sell us on the idea of romance of the journey, held over from a past era when the romance was inherent, because rails did provide the fastest path across the country. Every long, transnational train ride came pre-loaded with anticipation, quite often because the destination was a literal new frontier for its passengers, who most likely were embarking on a new life or a western adventure.

Five years back, Amtrak launched a writers residency, offering free rides to select writers willing to wax romantically about their contemporary rail adventures. That program has more recently devolved to a social media residency. The question then becomes whether the problem was a general lack of interest in train stories, or a general lack of interest in reading about people enjoying the journey over the destination.

Nevertheless, one has to suppose the monopolistic passenger rail company is thrilled that the name of one of its west coast routes, the Coast Starlight, has been given to a new play. Performed at La Jolla Playhouse until September 15, The Coast Starlight depicts conversations between passengers on the route’s 36-hour journey, which tracks from Los Angeles up the coast to San Luis Obispo, then north through Oakland and Sacramento, before crossing Oregon to Portland, and concluding in Seattle, Washington.

Except what it actually depicts are imagined conversations between the passengers, who, the audience is told, actually spend the overnight ride thinking about speaking to one another without much doing so. They speak of being in touch with loved ones via phone, skype, or email, yet do little to engage one another’s’ visceral sadness, anxiety, or uncertainty.

In that sense, the romance of the train journey depicted offers a wistful look at the ways our journeys might be enriched. If not by living an era where the cumbersome rumbling of a long train ride offered the quickest transit between two points, then one where we might share 36 hours with other human beings in a small space and actually form relationships, rather than biding time until the journey has ended.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Strings dominate at Oct. 20 Mainly Mozart

Prokofiev, Mozart, Beethoven at Del Mar Fairgrounds
Next Article

Lake Cuyamaca poplars, low fog at airport

Natural San Diego Oct. 26 - Nov. 1
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close